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Dementia Awareness: Walking group

Brian Scroggie is a retired GP who lives in Carlisle in the North West of England.. He spoke to Age in Spain about his experience of running a walking group for people with dementia and their carers.

Photo of the Carlisle walking group

After he retired, Brian become involved with the Alzheimer´s Society. He says, “I´m not quite sure how it came about but it was probably initially being asked to shake a can at some fundraising event but since then things have snowballed and I´ve become much more involved . It wasn´t my idea but, at some point, someone suggested starting a walking group and I got roped into that.”

Brian says that the walking group came about because there were a lot of people locally who had been keen walkers in the past but, because of dementia, were not able to enjoy the pastime any longer. He explains, “the first thing we did was go down to Sheffield where there had been a walking group for a long time and joined one of their walks and, of course, we pinched all their guidelines and risk assessment templates and things.”

Furnished with the insight and procedures from Sheffield, the Carlisle walking group held it´s first walk about five years ago and, before the Covid restrictions, Brian would organize a walk about once a month, all year round. Unfortunately, the group hasn´t been able to meet since March 2020 but Brian and the members are raring to go again, once they get the green light from the Alzheimer´s Society. Hopefully that will happen soon.

Talking about how the group has developed over time, Brian says “when we first started out the walks were eight or ten miles but it quickly became apparent that that wasn´t what people wanted and now the walks tend to be around two miles, sometimes less.” The walks have evolved so that 15-20 people usually meet in the morning, they do the walk, and then gather in a café or pub for lunch, afterwards. Some people with less advanced dementia can and do come on their own but most people attend with a (family) carer although, crucially, if a carer can´t attend then Brian can organise for a volunteer to be with a walker with dementia. That means that carers can sometimes take advantage of the walks to do something essential away from the person they care for but have confidence that their loved one is looked after and doing something stimulating.

Brian reflected on the benefits of the walking group, “obviously the people with dementia benefit but probably even more so their carers as it´s a bit of a break for them. You can see the carers getting together and talking on the walks and sharing their problems and ideas. Of course, everyone benefits from getting some exercise, too.” Brian also explains that those who had been walkers or climbers benefit, particularly, in being able to walk in a safe environment.

Preparation is key to the success of the group. There are about 20 routes that Brian regularly uses – routes which don´t have rough paths or stiles that might be difficult for some of the group to negotiate – and he is always on the look out for new routes that are suitable. He is also keen to make sure that the group is as inclusive as possible so there are routes which are wheelchair accessible for when Brian knows that someone in a wheelchair is attending. In addition, Brian always walks the route a couple of days before the group to make sure that there are no new obstacles, such as fallen trees. There is also a risk assessment for each walk.

Brian is keen to stress that his role leading the walking group is as a volunteer and entirely separate from his previous career as a doctor but his long working life in Carlisle does mean that he is able to say “there is a lot more local provision and support for people living with dementia now, compared with when I was working, and that´s fantastic. I hope we can start up again soon.” We hope so too, Brian.

If anyone in Spain is interested in starting up a similar group and wants to know just what´s involved, Brian has kindly said that he is willing to share his insight and the processes that the Carlisle group follows. You can contact him through Age in Spain:

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